It is often worth while stopping and reflecting on the work we do, what it means to us, how we view it and assess its affect on us, both positively and negatively. All too often, without much thought, we can be deeply drawn into our work through the pressures that are placed upon us from others or those we place on ourselves. Before we are aware of it, we are knee deep and struggling to stop ourselves from sinking.
This is something that I see often especially with those people whose primary focus is upon the emotional needs of others. For me, this means mentoring, counselling and something that lies in a delicate balancing act between the two of these.
I spent the majority of my time listening. Listening to stories of other peoples lives and as is usual with my role, I am not listening to these people because their whole life is, in their words “good” (I paraphrase here). Saying that, I am also aware that part of my role is to perhaps help them see where there is good in their life which is, for may reasons, hidden from them.
Two way conversations can be very energising. When we interact with someone we have the potential to listen, empathise and give encouragement, as well as be heard. Knowing that someone has listened to me, understood me and has encouraged me as well can be uplifting, however when you are just listening and the nature of the relationship is defined through a client-mentor/counsellor contract I have found that I become tired, very tired.
This is not a physical tiredness but an emotional one that drains the body of energy and can be the cause of that sinking feeling that I talked about before.
Alongside this, it is so very important to be able to separate what we know to be true about ourselves and that we know to be true for one of our clients.
When we enter a helping relationship we do so on the basis of supporting the life and journey of someone else.
Phenomenology is the process by which the use of bracketing, equalisation and description helps us do this.
Bracketing: (we looked at this is much more detail yesterday) Where we put aside our own beliefs, assumptions prejudices and expectations and we force ourselves to explore the experiences of the client as if the first time of encountering it.
Description: Where it is not for us to interpret the client’s experience but to paraphrase. Putting in your own words their experience.
Equalisation: Where it is important for us to not choose what we think is the most important part of the client’s story.
However what makes our work so vital is that we also show unbiased empathy towards the young people we work with. Yet, it seems that there can be a real tension between empathy “the ability to sense somebody else’s world as if it were our own, but without loosing the ‘as if’ quality” (Rogers, 1957) and the use of phenomenology. This tension is really important to consider for a couple of factors.
Firstly, for the client to feel, and know, that you are not bringing your experiences into their world. To colour their story with your own emotions and experiences would negatively affect the relationship between counsellor and client. Secondly it is important that realise that you are stepping into the client’s world and then back into your own without taking your experiences into theirs and without bringing their experiences back into yours.
The most helpful tool and relationship that we can have to support us in recognising and process this dynamic is the use of clinical supervision.
In this form of supervision, we find that the supervisor is able to do a number of things to support you in your practice. The supervisor can help you process the diverse relationships that you will have. Simply by talking about each client, what they bring to the room and how you are supporting them can help you see the quality of the work you are doing. This is so important. It’s not just about dealing with the negative that you may experience but stopping to process the things you need to celebrate. We don’t do this enough. The act of reflecting this back to you as well as having someone who can ask you questions and highlight connections you may not have made can be very helpful.
I also believe that supervision can be a tool that enables us to ensure that we are simply working at our best possible ability for the benefit of the client while at the same time looking after our own lives.